I wrote this in January 2007. I’ve since learned more.
Wayne Dyer wrote that once your mind expands to include new ideas, it will never shrink back to its old ways. That happened to me after my recent bout with gout — inspired by my pain, I finally confronted my lifelong addiction to salt and white flour.
I’ve known about whole grains for years but totally ignored sodium levels, choosing blissful ignorance. In matters of health, however, what you don’t know can hurt you. I started reading sodium listings on labels in December, but I had no knowledge of the recommended daily allowance of sodium, so I calculated the level at 2,400 milligrams (mg) after reading that 120 mg constituted 5 percent of the daily allowance. Then I found the amount in a hospital magazine and on the Mayo Clinic Web site. Both recommend 1,500 to 2,400 mg.
The Mayo Clinic Web site reports that 77 percent of sodium in the average American diet comes from prepared food. Some sodium, it says, is necessary to the body’s functioning. Sodium helps maintain the balance of fluids and transmit nerve impulses, and it influences the contraction and relaxation of muscles. Kidneys regulate the sodium level in the body, conserving or excreting it, but if they can’t eliminate it, sodium accumulates in the blood, attracting and holding water, increasing blood volume and thus blood pressure and making the heart work harder to move blood.
Amounts of sodium in a few foods are:
Pickles, 250 mg or 360 mg per spear, depending on the type;
Ortega taco sauce, 120 mg per tablespoon; a 16-ounce jar has 28 tablespoons; Ortega’s sauce also contains sugar in the form of corn syrup;
Ortega taco seasoning packet, 430 mg in one-sixth envelope; that’s 2,580 mg total;
Beef and chicken broth in cans, about 1,800 to 2,000 mg;
Pretzel sticks, medium size, 470 mg per ounce, which is about five sticks;
1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1,005 mg;
Lipton Rice Sides (white rice), 1,660 mg;
Hamburger Helper, 780 mg per serving (10 servings per container);
Bread, about 150 to 190 mg per slice, depending on the style and brand;
Tortilla, 7-inch diameter, 280 mg;
At Giant Eagle, I couldn’t find any taco sauce without sugar, but GE had a small selection of taco sauce. Fishers sells Victoria sauce, which has no sugar and is lower in sodium. It was harder to find salsa without sugar and impossible to find salsa without salt. I found Green Mountain Gringo salsa, which is fairly low in sodium, in the health food section. Somewhere in one of our kitchen cabinets we have a salsa maker, so next summer we’ll make our own salsa with tomatoes and hot peppers from our garden. (I love Mexican food, so it’s important that I find low-sodium, low-fat alternatives to my salt-beef tacos of the past.)
Sodium occurs naturally in some foods, such as meat, poultry, dairy products and vegetables, according to the Mayo site. Two large scrambled eggs contain 342 mg, and one cup of lowfat milk has 110 mg. Sodium also abounds in sweet food and drinks, such as pop and hot chocolate mixes. Sodium hides in food in many forms other than salt — monosodium glutamate, baking soda, baking powder, disodium phosphate, sodium alginate, and sodium nitrate or nitrite — so it’s necessary to read nutrition labels, not just the lists of ingredients. “Your taste for salt is acquired, so it’s reversible,” says the Mayo site. The taste buds will adjust, the site says, and eliminating salt allows you to enjoy the true taste of food.
From now on I’ll no longer shop armed with fuzzy facts and hearsay, and I’ll no longer guess at amounts of fats and sodium. I will study labels and keep track of daily intake. I will no longer count only calories, or only grams of fat, or only sugar. I will consider the entire contents and thoroughly read labels. Most importantly, I will no longer engage in thoughtless eating. I will eat good food, and I will avoid fat-laden, sugar-laden, sodium-laden processed food. Armed with knowledge of nutrition, I know that I can’t eat half a box of crackers or half a bag of pretzels.
The body is like the stock market before 1929. You can make demands on it that are beyond its natural capacity with seemingly no ill effects, but someday it will crash. It might be years before it does, but it will. Or you can invest wisely. That’s what I’m doing. After years of squandering my health account, I’m changing my ways, because, as former Surgeon General David Satcher, quoted in Morgan Spurlock’s “Don’t Eat This Book,” said, “If you don’t make time to take care of yourself now, then you’d better make time to be in hospitals later.”